Raising awareness of iron deficiency

Iron Symposium speakers (from left) were Alex Popple,Clare Wall, Professor David Cameron-Smith, Bob Stewart and Dr Kathryn Beck.Five leading New Zealand experts in the field of nutrition recently spoke at a half-day scientific symposium focusing on iron in the diet, as part of Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) Inc’s inaugural Iron Awareness Week in May.

The symposium – Iron: the issue of deficiency in a land of plenty – was held in conjunction with the University of Auckland’s Food and Health Programme. About 100 health professionals were attracted to hear the line-up of speakers.

These included Bob Stewart, Massey University researcher and lecturer who talked about manipulating the bioavailability of dietary iron. He highlighted whilst haem iron (found in red meat) contributes to 10-20 percent of iron in the diet, it makes up 50 percent of our iron stores.  He also made reference to the ‘meat factor’ which enhances iron uptake and reminded the audience of iron inhibitors, noting that the tannins in tea, coffee, cocoa and red wine can inhibit iron absorption so it’s best to wait a couple of hours before or after the meal before drinking these if possible..

Dr Kathryn Beck, a human nutrition and dietetics lecturer also from Massey, made the audience aware of the groups in the New Zealand population most at risk of iron deficiency (babies, toddlers, teenagers, women and athletes). She addressed the negative health consequences on cognitive performance, behaviour and physical growth in children and decreased physical capacity and work performance in all ages.

The University of Auckland’s Dr Clare Wall, associate professor nutrition and dietetics in the School of Medical Sciences, drew delegates’ attention to the iron status of New Zealand’s young children. Given the life-long permanent effects of iron deficiency, particularly on brain development, Dr Wall emphasised iron-rich red meat should be one of baby’s first foods and also made reference to the emerging research of the gut microbiome and how ‘gut bugs’ may have an effect on iron status.

Alex Popple, senior performance nutritionist for High Performance Sport New Zealand works with elite athletes in rowing, cycling and rugby. He talked about his approach with athletes as individuals, as a population approach is not always applicable when it comes to sports nutrition.  He expressed his concern with how common iron deficiency is amongst athletes, in both men and women, and how this ultimately impacts on athletic performance.  This is in part, due to the hormone, hepcidin which increases during exercise.  He looked at timing of iron intake, highlighting an iron-rich breakfast and dinner at opposite ends of the day and recovery days can help alleviate low iron stores.

Finally, David Cameron-Smith, professor of nutrition at the University of Auckland, presented on the inverse correlation between red meat ingestion and the rising prevalence of anaemia in older adults and subsequent adverse health consequences (see video below).  Iron metabolism is altered with aging but there is not convincing evidence of its link with cognitive decline.  He emphasised dietary habits do matter over the long-term and that iron is part of the mix when it comes to today’s lifestyle patterns of being sedentary and the outcomes such as obesity.

B+LNZ Inc facilitated the inaugural Iron Awareness Week providing an opportunity to highlight the concerning iron deficiency statistics in a land of plenty, explains B+LNZ Inc’s nutrition manager Fiona Greig

“The week-long ‘Are you getting enough?’ campaign posed the question  to get the general public thinking about their dietary iron intake, as the symptoms of deficiency often go unnoticed and are attributed to running a busy lifestyle (tiredness and lack of concentration to name a few),” she says.

Iron Awareness Week 2014The website ironweek.co.nz and hashtag #IronWeekNZ were established to provide information and tips to boost iron intake, recipes and free resources.

To view the full symposium presentations, check out B+LNZ’s You Tube channel www.youtube.co.nz/BeefandLamb Beef + Lamb New Zealand Inc hopes to run Iron Awareness Week next year.  If you have any questions or comments, please contact Fiona Greig fionag@beeflambnz.co.nz.

This article has appeared in Food NZ magazine (June/July 2014) and is reproduced here with permission.

Note: videos of all the presentations are now available at Beef and Lamb Inc’s YouTube channel.

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